I sit in front of my laptop at my kitchen table most weekdays now, writing radio advertisements while my 6-year-old sits beside me on another laptop learning math in Spanish.
Like many things in 2020, that sentence would’ve made very little sense to me a year ago. Yet here we are.
My son sits in his chair, knees pulled up to his chest, watching the screen. His teacher talks about prisma rectangulares and triangulos. I don’t understand much more than the names of shapes, numbers and colors, and I don’t think my son really does either. But it’s the beginning of his second year in a dual-language immersion program, so hopefully he’ll eventually figure it out. As he sits and wiggles and bounces, he sometimes leans over and clutches my arm or rests his head against me.
Our youngest was slated to start preschool this August. This time last year I thought my house would be incredibly empty come the fall of 2020. How wrong I was. It turns out the house has never been fuller.
Not only am I here all the time — that’s nothing new — all the children are here, too. All day, every day. And so is a growing legion of computers and other devices, worksheets, crayons, pencils, textbooks, glue sticks and occasionally a lizard that just stops by to get in on the house party.
In the few moments during the school day that I’m not providing technical or emotional support, I churn out advertising copy for a content mill I’ve started working for nearly full-time. It’s weird work, but it suits me. There is zero interpersonal interaction. I write quickly so I can crank out large amounts of content and earn decent money. I feel fortunate to have the work when so many others are struggling to stay afloat.
However, this year has certainly seen an unusual confluence of events. I started taking on more work because I anticipated having all the kids in some type of school. Then the pandemic came and crushed all those plans.
Safe at home — now and …
So, now I’m working almost full-time, parenting more than full-time, and leaving the house maybe two or three times a week at the most. All around me, I see other people’s lives going on while I’m in the Groundhog Day movie.
I understand most people want to “get back to normal,” but I’m becoming less and less certain there is any type of normal to get back to. The pandemic has laid bare divisions in our communities I didn’t even know existed. As coronavirus case numbers and deaths piled up here in Florida in July and August, I saw acquaintances and even friends pretending it was over. While many people attempted to cling to normalcy, I completely tossed it aside.
At some point in time that I can’t specifically identify, I stopped venturing out not only because it wasn’t safe, but because I just didn’t want to anymore. I know I’ll have to emerge from my bunker eventually — if not for my sake then at least for my kids — but it won’t be easy.
For example, I went inside a store for the first time in nearly six months a few weeks ago and promptly spilled the entire contents of my wallet on the floor at the checkout. In that moment of raw panic while I shuffled my plastic cards around on the linoleum floor as the cashier judged me with his eyes — luckily the incredulous laugh that was no doubt there was hidden by his mask — I determined that I needed to retreat to my house, throw away all the junk in my wallet, and practice doing routine activities for a few more months or years before venturing out and trying to get “back to normal.”
But it’s not just that I’m socially rusty. Many times, I wonder what really is out there to go back to? What could possibly be worth the risk right now and for the foreseeable future?
It turns out I’m getting pretty comfortable in my very uncomfortable kitchen chair, typing away on my computer, right in the middle of everything that really matters to me. It feels familiar. It feels safe. I never have to search for somewhere that feels like home if I never leave my actual home in the first place. If I’m not careful, I could get a little too used to the safety of this new normal my family has created.